1969







INTRO

If you are thinking that 1968 was an exhilarating year for On Kawara, and deserved to be written about at length, then I would have to agree with you. If you are thinking that less was bound to have been happening creatively for On Kawara in 1969, and so I could zoom through it more quickly, you couldn't be more wrong. Which is one way of me saying to you: 'Settle yourself down for a long read'. By the time you get to the end of this, you'll thank me for it.





ONE

At the beginning of 1969 there were still three months of On and Hiroko's tour of South America to go. I don't want to set this out in any detail, as On Kawara took his practice to another level once they got back to New York, and I must put the emphasis on that. But nevertheless…


Having flown south along the west coast of South America, before jetting across to Buenos Aires and Montevideo in the last three months of 1968, On and Hiroko would now travel north, first to Paraguay, then to spend most of their time at several stops in Brazil (where Portuguese is the Date Painting language) before returning to Mexico City via Spanish-speaking Venezuela and Panama.

All of February was spent in Brazil, where On and Hiroko enjoyed the carnival in Sao Paolo. Here is 'I MET' for January 23:

JANUARY 23, 1969
HIROKO HIRAOKA
BIN KONDO
PATRICIO VICTORIANO
LAUDEIRA LOPEX
AUGUSTO VALERIANO
EMIKO ARAKI
ETSUKO KONDO
NAOTO KONDO
YUKIO SUZUKI
YOICHI NAKAKURA
SOICHI SUZUKI
KAZUHIRO ASADA
YASUE IMAYUKI
KAZUO WAKABAYASHI
HIKARI WAKABAYASHI
TOMISHIGE KUSUNO
TOKUJI ITO
MUTSUKO ITO
TETSUO NOMURA

There are many artists on that list. Sao Paulo was the centre of the Brazilian art scene and there was a distinct Brazilian-Japanese component to that.

On and Hiroko went on to Rio De Janeiro for a few days, where On made three Date Paintings in three days. Then they returned to Sao Paulo. As in January, only one Date Painting was produced in that city, 16 FEV. 1969, and that was subtitled "Carnaval do Brasil". The following 'I MET' from February 21 contains many of the same names from January 23, listed above. I've marked the recurring names in blue. Obviously, On had been up past midnight the night before, as the first name is not Hiroko's.

FEBRUARY 21, 1969
MICHIO OSAWA
HIROKO HIRAOKA
SACHIKO KOSHIKOKU
TOMISHIGE KUSUNO
ETSUKO KONDO
YOICHI NAKAKURA
EMIKO ARAKI
NAOTO KONDO
FUJIKO IMANISHI
KAZUO WAKABAYASHI

A little Google research tells me that four of the names on this list - Sachiko Koshikoku, Tomoshige Kusuno, Etsuko Kondo and Kazuo Wakabayashi - were artists born in Japan but who had emigrated to Brazil (just as On had emigrated from Japan to Mexico City). The dynamic art scene in this particular city was supported by Sao Paulo Museum of Art and the Sao Paulo Biennale.

Tomo-shige Kus-un-o (I believe it's pronounced) had been born in Yubari, northern Japan, in 1935, and left his homeland for Brazil in 1960. On Kawara was born in mid-Japan at the end of 1932 and left Japan for Mexico in 1959. Of course, the same bombs had fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in southern Japan in August 1945, when On had been twelve and Tomoshige 10. Children of the same trauma; artists of the same background radiation.

The image below seems to relate to Japan's catastrophe. Or at least Tomoshige Kusuno's attempt to process it in 1977. There are some things that language cannot cope with. There are some experiences that the human mind finds it impossible to process. And what is the resultant emotion?

unadjustednonraw_thumb_e04f Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Tomoshige Kusuno.

Below is a painting that Tomoshige Kusuno made between 1981 and 1985. My first thought was that it appeared to illustrate an atomic bomb falling on South America.

u002bln0025mautna4um0025002bt002bhfva_thumb_e089 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder, Tomoshige Kusuno.

Then I realised that man doesn't need to go to the trouble of dropping any more atomic bombs. Simply by cutting down the Amazon Rain Forest we are sealing our doom. Catastrophic global warming - no mushroom cloud necessary.

On that same February 21, On Kawara had to make a second list of people he'd met, having flown to another city, Brasilia.

FEBRUARY 21, 1969 HIROKO HIRAOKA IRINEU MAMEDE

j8nmifu9sj2jbt71ggd1hw_thumb_d1a1 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The red line takes us from from the airport (off map) to the hotel. Who was Irineu Mamede? Perhaps a member of hotel management.

The 'I WENT' maps for February 21 to February 27 were all included in On Kawara continuity/discontinuity, the major book published in 1980. No other examples of 'I WENT' appear in that important volume. I don't think anything special happened in Brasilia. On Date Painted most days, but the maps look particularly striking due to the city's distinctive layout.

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The red routes varied, as On stuck fairly close to the hotel some days and roamed further afield on others. And a whole 'story' is told, from the day that they arrived from the airport to the day they departed for it. I go into this in fictional detail elsewhere on this website.

By the 28th of February, On Kawara was in Manaus. Both the Date Painting made on that day and the one made on March the first, are subtitled "Eu estop em Manaus." Which translates into: 'I'm in Manaus.' Maybe there was nothing more to be said. Manaus is a city in the middle of the Amazon jungle, and I imagine the culture shock starts when you're in the plane flying over said jungle.

9cszesw3rucsatzkajtiia_thumb_d0ec Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Next stop, Caracas, capital of Venezuela. A Date Painting was made on March 8, its subtitle translates into: "Once the most dangerous tests were finished, the astronauts of the Apollo 9 capsule today dedicated themselves to their new task: Examining the Earth, from a height of 160 kilometres in space, in search of hidden riches." Which might have reminded On Kawara of his passing over the endless (if only it truly was) Amazon rainforest.

j1uely55s0mbp4ztlciucw_thumb_d0ed Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The above looks subtly different from the painting made on March 1, because the convention of showing the date in Venezuela - a Spanish speaking country as opposed to Portuguese speaking Brazil - shortens the year to its last two numbers. So in order to fill his canvas in a way that suited him, and seemed balanced, On Kawara had to paint larger letters. I have to observe that the background in the top half of this last picture betrays a few horizontal stroke marks that I would have expected to have been smoothed over. March 9 was painted as well. Subtitle: "Septuples en Etiopia."

Next stop, Panama, where he added to the "TODAY" series on both the 11th and the 12th of March. The 11th's subtitle concerns a boxing contest at Madison Square Garden, New York, while the 12th's concerns Spanish immigration from West Africa: "The number of Spaniards estimated to have left Equatorial Guinea in recent days surpassed 2,000 today with the arrival of 218 refugees aboard an Iberia DC-8 plane at Madrid's Barajas Airport."

vg05zt6pqzeec86rcg6ibw_thumb_d0ee Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara then took a 16-day break from Date Painting. So let's just check his output in terms of consistency and possible use of templates.

Let's start by lining up like with like. These are all size A paintings, but I'm putting together Dates made in Spanish-speaking countries separate from Portuguese-speaking Brazil, because 1969 being rendered as 69 means that the Spanish Dates have fewer, bigger characters:

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Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


Same conclusion as before. These paintings are all identical in font and thickness. They weren't done using the same templates as had been used in New York in 1967, so they were probably made with ruler and pencil. Besides, it wouldn't be easy to slightly change the size of the characters as one went back and forth from Brazil to Spanish-speaking countries.


The artist travelled back to Mexico City, after his six-month foray in the south, and no doubt there were a lot of arrangements to make prior to his return to New York. In Mexico City, On Kawara did a single Date Painting in his room at the Monte Carlo Hotel, after being away from it for six months. The subtitle of 28 MAR.69 is an announcement of the death of an ex-President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.


One more thing to point out before we get immersed in On Kawara's return to New York. In 2008, when choosing which of the two daily postcards to include in the 'complete' 'I GOT UP' book, On tended to choose the card to Kasper Konig from May 10 1968 to Feb 10 1969. (With exceptions, for example, there were 11 examples of the second card chosen from June, none from July, but 10 from August.) However, from Feb 10 until March 14 there were no Kasper König cards chosen, all were the 'second' card. Moreover, no two days in a row had the same recipient.

ovv4zyelr0025e8veolufeh2w_thumb_f30b.lruw9owutpw0hzlppalemq_thumb_f30c Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Those above two 'I GOT UP' cards are samples chosen by me from the Tama Art University listing (Christine Kozlov and Jospeh Kosuth were partners and had visited On Kawara in Mexico in August, 1968. In this month of constantly revolving recipients, the lucky people were Christine Kozlov (4 postcards), Joseph Kosuth (2), Ray Johnson (5), Raquel Jodorowsky (1), Dorothy and Herbert Vogel (4), Richard Pugliese (1), David Behrman (2), Janet Krazberg (1), Icharo Haryu (4), Peter Decher (1), Dan Graham (2), Yoshiaka Tono (3), Sol Lewitt (2) and R and D Lichtenstein (1). This means that On Kawara was constantly revolving his address plates. He would not have been disassembling them in order to create the next name and address, not when he knew he would be using that plate again. To do so would have been too time consuming. He must have been carrying a lot of completed nameplates around in his briefcase.

I need to add that the above two reproductions are not typical, in that of the 33 cards shown from this Feb 10 to March 14 period, 25 were reconstructions and only 8 were reproductions of the actual card sent. In other words, Christine Kozlov, Joseph Kosuth and Sol Lewitt kept their cards (8 in total), while the other 11 recipients, including Dan Graham, didn't. Below is how a couple of the reconstructed cards look in the 2008 book as made available by Tama Art University:

oay54zpzsaw4zsrnrbqjfq_thumb_f30a.hoobpb0aruiqzxrfkucbqa_thumb_f309 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

What you immediately notice is that the picture side is not reconstructed. Because it would not have been reliably known. The information presented, such as getting up time, and On Kawara's own address, and the identity of the recipient, were known from On Kawara's records, he kept a log book. But that log book did not include the actual address of the recipients, and I assume a separate address book had been lost between 1969 and 2008. Almost forty years had passed, after all.

One begins to see why On Kawara went to the trouble of sending out two cards every day. A single card exclusively to Kasper König would have seriously cut down on various possibilities. While a single card to a range of On Kawara's contacts - both close friends and art world luminaries - could have resulted in a 25% retention rate. Which would have made for a visually boring book come 2008 (or whenever else On had got round to piecing together the project). Ideally, On wanted a card retained for each day that two were sent, and he wanted a wide range of recipients located all over the world. He also wanted to have some choice as to which of the two cards to include in the book that showed one card sent out per day. Because that meant he could retain some secrets. I would still like to know when Nobu Fukui got his single card (it would have been between May 10, 1968 and Feb 10, 1969, I expect). And I would still like to know who got the second one-gaucho card from Buenos Aires throughout December, 1968.

Below is the postcard sent to Kasper Konig on March 29, 1969. I think that card has been stamped by On Kawara as '324', though the information is obscured by the post office's own stamp. And March 30 is stamped '325', though I suspect you'd only work that out if you had 324. After all those months, On was still using the very same plate containing the letters of Kasper König's address that he'd set up with rubber letters for May 10, 1968. And he had gone back to the original plate with his own address that he'd used throughout his time in Mexico City, with its inconsistent set-up, neither centred nor aligned left.

ezcqb6sptf2nv6w7dzt0iw_thumb_d0f82ktvtzazsoegjfisjoblqw_thumb_d1ad Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara flew back to New York on March 31, but I dare say he managed to pop the 326th card to Kasper in the post before taking off. Where were On and Hiroko going? Back to Manhattan. With plenty time to prepare for the Moon landing scheduled for July, 1969.

I've just noticed that On Kawara left New York in April 1, 1968 and he returned there on March 31, 1969. If he'd needed to be away for a full year for immigration reasons, then I can't help feel that he'd have stayed away another day just to be on the safe side. I would have.





TWO

On Kawara was back in New York after a whole year away. Time for a well deserved rest? Not so. He was going to carry on with 'I GOT UP', 'I WENT' and 'I MET' which would be a completely different endeavour on home territory. On Kawara would have had to take note of his taxi's route back from JFK Airport to Manhattan, so that he could produce his second 'I WENT' for the day. (The first would have been a map of Mexico City showing his route to the airport.)

9002bb7vtvtsv002beso7bi1yg7g_thumb_d0fd Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It's a wonder he was able to concentrate on the route. After all 50 of his paintings had been confiscated by baffled customs officers' (Hiroko was to tell Kasper Konig in a letter written on July 14, 1969). Would he ever get them back?

Enlarging part of the above 'I WENT' for 31 March 1969 (see below), one notes that On Kawara stopped somewhere else before ending up at the place he would sleep. Over the next fortnight, On Kawara would stay overnight at both places, according to 'I WENT' and 'I GOT UP'.

mao5hg9dqqyifc7vbhe0025yg_thumb_d0fd Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


The six maps comprising 'I WENT' from March 31 to April 5 are reproduced in On Kawara - SILENCE. On Kawara was at both addresses on April 1 and April 2. And on April 5, the two addresses seem to have been the only places he went that day. For the first week back in New York, On Kawara was getting up at 53 Greene Street, which was a huge loft occupied by On's and Hiroko's friends, Nobu and Miyuki Fukui. And for the second week or so he was getting up at 97 Crosby Street. That was a spacious, unheated loft that belonged to Hirotsoku Aoki, as he sent postcards to him there in 1970. This was another Japanese artist who had emigrated to New York, though not until 1967.

Let me say more about these two. If you recall, it was Nobu Fukui who told me that On Kawara used templates in 1967. He also said that he'd been living on his own in a loft on Lisperard Street, and that late in 1967 he'd gone to Japan for a year. So he'd got back to New York in late 1968 and by the time that the Kawaras returned to the Big Apple in spring of 1969, Nobu was married to Miyuki and living with her at 53 Greene Street.

Hirotsugu Aoki was interviewed in 2020, by Charity Robey, writing for Shelter Island Reporter, from which this is an extract: 'In 1969, living in an unheated loft with winter coming on, Aoki met Teresa O'Connor, professor at CUNY. "I needed a girlfriend with a nice warm apartment," he said. "And I needed to learn English, and she was an English professor."' As it was still only April of 1969, presumably Aoki and the Kawaras were sharing the space.

What explains these addresses? Well, On Kawara had been away for a full year. And Hiroko had been away for six months. So they had no rented living space to come back to. Though that is speculation. I'm sure On Kawara and Hirotsuku Aoki were close friends and liked to discuss art. Also, the apartment studio at 340 East 13th Street had been retained as storage space and studio.

Returned to New York, where Kasper König still lived, On Kawara stopped sending postcards to him. But 'I GOT UP' went on without a single day's interruption. From 1 April there were two new recipients. One was Toshiaki Minemura, a curator and art writer based in Tokyo. As one might imagine, returning to New York forced On Kawara's postcard project to go much more international.


So when On got up on April 1, and made up his postcards, he was staying with Nobu and Miyuki. Of course, Hiroko would have been with him, and in the single letter that she wrote to Kasper König in July of 1969, which I've mentioned several times, she talks about On wanting to rent space at the top of the Empire State Building. Only there wasn't enough 'AIR' behind the windows at such a height. So for the time being, the loft at 53 Greene Street would have to do. Dream on, On Kawara.

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As I say, 53 Greene Street was On's base for those first few days back in New York. 'I WENT' for March 31, April 1, April 2, April 3, April 4 and April 5 were discreetly reproduced in On Kawara: SILENCE. The April 5 map is reproduced below because it shows On moving back and forth between Nobu's loft and Aoki's loft, and nothing else.

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On and Hiroko moved their base to Aoki's loft after a couple of weeks, possibly to give the Fukuis a break. But on April 3, On got up at 53 Greene Street with the sun shining, and he made his 'I GOT UP' postcard, one for Mr. Minemura in Tokyo but I don't know about the other in April. Well, I don't know about the sun shining either, but it's tempting to think so. On and Hiroko were young, they were happy, they were full of ideas, and they were back in the company of their friends.

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From May 1, the other recipient of a card was Konrad Fischer, based in Germany, a contact of Kasper König's. In 1970, Fischer would exhibit the first 30 postcards (of 120) he received in a show at the Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf. And, soon after, On Kawara's first solo exhibition would be presented at his gallery in that city.

I don't know if Toshiaki Minemura also got 120 cards (From May 1, the 'I GOT UP' book switches to showing the Konrad Fischer card) though Hiroko says in her July letter to Kasper that he got 'about 60' so I expect that is right . The Guggenheim's SILENCE catalogue reproduces the ones Minemura was sent on April 1-3 (On's getting up times: 8.15am; 1.36pm; 2.56pm) and April 11-13 (On's getting up times: 11.51am; 10.20am; 2.22pm). The latter were all posted from 97 Crosby Street. So, as I said, On Kawara spent a week at Nobu's place, probably with Hiroko, then may have moved into the other loft, again probably with Hiroko. In both places he slept, it would seem, like a lord.

In Hiroko's letter to Kasper of July 14, she explains that Toshiaki Minemura hadn't known how to respond to the cards. He'd entered them into an exhibition under his own name and been awarded a prize. On Kawara did not take offence.

By April 10, On was temporarily basing himself at 97 Crosby Street. I know this because of the address that appears on the 'I GOT UP' postcards, three of which are reproduced in On Kawara: SILENCE. Since confirmed by Tama Art University reproducing all of the 'I GOT UP' cards. God, this is a boring paragraph, but its the result of how this essay (these essays) were written. First in 2021 with the help of catalogues, then in 2022 with the help of librarians, and finally in 2023, when a much greater data set was finally available thanks to Tama Art University. I'll try to keep quiet about that from now on and silently update my text.

mrcskdjfs7gvxfimmvs7qg_thumb_d1d5 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The above image is a page from On Kawara: Silence and doesn't do justice to the relationship between On and Aoki. So let's zero in. First postcard:

gj002bxt9sfrwwapteq7covkq_thumb_e9cf. Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

11.51 is not a normal getting up time. On and Aoki had been talking into the early hours. Or playing mah jongg at either 53 Greene Street or at Takeshi Kawashima's place. I should say that 97 Crosby Street was a large Manhattan loft. Aoki was renting it for a relatively low rent. It didn't have heating and wasn't designed for residential living. It was a squat. But it allowed the firm friends to catch up with each other.

Who was Aoki? What follows is another excerpt from an article written by Charity Robey in spring of 2020 that appeared in the Shelter Island Reporter, when Aoki and his family had temporarily moved to the island because of Covid.

'Aoki was born in Yokohama in 1943, the fourth of five children. His parents were doctors.  A traffic accident when he was 15 left him hospitalized with a brain injury. “I heard the doctor saying to my mother that he did not think I was going to make it,” he said. “Somehow I survived, but I stopped growing.” He graduated from high school, but admits he didn’t go much in the last year, in part due to the lingering effects of his brain injury. “I realized how fragile and unreal life is, and that I could be gone forever,” he said. “I think that’s why I stopped going to school.” Aoki trained as a painter after seeing a show in Tokyo of contemporary art including paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Josef Albers. He decided to move to New York in 1967 to pursue his interest in avant-garde art.'

All of which means that Aoki was ten years younger than On Kawara, but the same age as him when he left Japan. It means too that Aoki did not see On's huge loft on East 13th Street with its walls covered in 1966 Dates. He may have met On Kawara as early as 1967, but for sure they were close friends before On went off to Mexico and South America on March 31, 1968, from which adventure he had returned a self-observed man:

Next day:

kurbkzpbsraaazplvoa002bjq_thumb_e9d0 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Another late night. Another conversation about whatever it was that On and Aoki talked so intensely about? Another mah jongg marathon? if so a shorter one. It may be that On was helping Aoki with something practical. Maybe they were getting rid of urinals that were still there from the time that the loft had housed light industry.

Next day:

pqpub2o1q0gezixvm002brc5w_thumb_e9d1 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On got up at 2.22pm, smiling. Was it a mah jongg smile? Was it a chess smile? Was it a smile brought about by his year in Mexico and South America that he'd now been able to fully share with his chum, Hirotsugu Aoki? Was it a smile at the sight of the urinal stalls smashed into a thousand pieces? Who knows?

I wrote that last paragraph prior to Tama Art University doing their bit. I can now instantly conjure up the 'I MET' list for the previous day:

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How many mah jongg players can I see there, to add to On? Hiroko, Takashi and Aoki for sure. That's one table. Nobu, Soroku, Miyuki and shall we say, Toshio or Shigeko? Definitely two tables then. Two tables but only one winner by dawn.

Actually, I need to look at the next day's 'I MET' as well. Clearly the evening of April 12th went on into the morning of April 13. So the first names on the latter list would have been playing mah jongg at midnight.

1lxxoxzirek1sfohc4gpha_thumb_f30f The first eight names, I would say. Plus On Kawara equals nine. So maybe Doris was just watching.

And at 2.22PM in the afternoon?

"Hey, Aoki. Are you up yet?"

"Well, how about that? A hummingbird stirs under his Mexican sombrero!"


How were things proceeding on the Date Painting front? Well, if 340 East 13th Street was still the studio, then it doesn't surprise me that there was no painting in the first few days of April, since On didn't call in there. (Actually, that's wrong. He was there on April 2.) Anyway, by April 11 he was Date Painting, and five were produced before the end of the month.

On Kawara painted 12 DPs in May. Each day from May 11 to May 15, the subtitle reads: "I got up at X and painted this." Where X was 12.48pm, 2.05pm, 12.44pm, 3.06pm and 10.03am, respectively. Given some of these getting up times, he may have been beginning the paintings after midnight and going to bed when he'd laid down some of the layers of background.


fiuv1nubsjctnx1hhpct0025a_thumb_d1d6 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara then made a DP each day from May 18 until May 24, after which he had a three-week break. Of the seven paintings, one subtitle concerns Vietnam, one concerns American race relations, and four reference Apollo 10, which got to within 10 miles of landing on the lunar surface.

But let's incorporate the precious information received from Nobu Fukui at this point.


'The reason why On and Hiroko were in our loft, 53 Greene St, late at night often was that a group of us, Soroku Toyoshima, Hirotsugu Aoki, Takeshi Kawashima and some other Japanese artists were playing serious mah-jongg all night. On was the best player of all by far, and probably I was the worst. Quite often On brought a canvas and was painting DATE between the games.'


That's modest of Nobu to say he was the worst player. I don't suppose that was true. Though I have to say that I can quite believe that On would have been the best.

'We started in the early evening, and On normally brought a painted canvas with the date pencilled out, all he had to do was to paint. Sometimes he came with a blank canvas, painted the canvas and played the game while the paint was getting dry. He used a set of plastic templates to draw dates with pencil. I didn't know, but I learned later that somehow he kept this a secret. Apparently he wanted the public to believe he was drawing freehand.'

That's been duly noted and is being followed through. A process that may continue all through these chapters.

'A few times he was losing the game and he didn't stop playing and could not finish the painting. On these occasions he removed the canvas and put it in a trash can. Once he was painting, and it was getting close to 12:00 midnight. His concentration and intensity was mind-boggling to some of us watching him. The clock I had in the living area in the loft struck midnight. "Congratulations!" I said, the painting looked perfect to me. He stood up and said, "No good! It's one minute past midnight." He was looking at this big wristwatch on his left hand. I said. "Come on, I was watching the clock and you finished at least 30 seconds before midnight." No, I only trust this watch, it's perfectly accurate. He said that if he doesn't follow his own rules strictly, his work becomes meaningless.'

I don't imagine that On wasted his day's work like this very often. Perhaps only when paying mah-jongg with his peers.

Anyway, back in New York, had On reverted to using templates? I only have one reproduction from April to June inclusive. It's a size B painting so let me compare it with two size B paintings from the South American time:

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ovqrck0025drm6002b97omemc9qq_thumb_eace-2.7p6rdjovtbat5fbxdgp22q_thumb_eaba Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I would say that On has reverted to using his templates. The MAY 1969 letters are thicker-lined and smaller in size.

ovqrck0025drm6002b97omemc9qq_thumb_eace-3.r002bbzogmlsqizuk6ahbhfgw_thumb_ea93 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

Correction: the May 1969 has not been done with the same template that was used for MAY 11, 1967. These latest are also both size B paintings, but the 'A' in the 1967 canvas is much thinner. And the tail on the 9 in 1967 is very short. Distinctly shorter than the tails on the 9s in the 1969 Date.

I've mentioned that On Kawara sent 120 cards to Konrad Fischer. These were exhibited in 2022 and the quality of a single installation shot is such that I've been able to make out On Kawara's address on each card sent from April 1 to July 31. Eight nights at 53 Greene Street, followed by 21 nights at 97 Crosby Street, and from then on On Kawara was getting up in a loft whose address was 180 Centre Street. That is in Manhattan, not far from those other addresses. It's there, in this newly rented loft, he would have been Date Painting as well as making out the postcards and all the rest.

In June, On Kawara made just three Date Paintings, and then four more in early July. The 'I GOT UP' cards were still going off to Konrad Fischer. More importantly, On Kawara was preparing himself for the Apollo moon landing almost as much as NASA was. Of course, as Hiroko told Kasper in her letter of July 14, On had just been given the all-clear for cancer, so the possibility is that the huge effort to come was a celebration of his continuing consciousness. And it's at this point that I must introduce an extra section due to a recent (February, 2024) discovery by myself and two colleagues.





THREE

I'm going to give the first half of July a section to itself because it illustrates the complexity of both On Kawara's thought process and his art practice. You could argue that the Date Paintings and 'I GOT UP' postcards are simple ideas, when viewed from certain perspectives. There is nothing simple about what I'm about to convey. Which is partly why, as far as I'm aware, Code: Eight quintillion, is a code that was not decoded until Anders Delbom, Tommy Wrede and I cracked it recently.

How do I put this strange episode across? Hiroko, in her July 14 letter to Kasper Konig, enclosed what she referred to as an 'easy to crack' code of On's that was in English. It's possible that she meant another code, because the one I'm about to tell you about is not at all easy to crack even if you're given a piece of essential information, which Hiroko did not seem to give Konig.

Here is the full title of the piece:

behqctusqaea002bqy6vqxaug_thumb_106d2
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


The above consists of just two numbers. An enormous whole number and a fraction of the number one. The whole number being the second one: 205,006,712,995,180. And the fraction being the first: 0.8802057201850504108.

Why are the numbers written out in words rather than expressed as numerals? For a start, it means that you have to get to the end of the list of words before you know whether you've got a huge number or a fraction, which is a bit disconcerting. Let's pause in the middle of that extraordinary title for a fraction of a second. Or for a very long time.

The full artwork? The catalogue, On Kawara: Silence, shows five pages (six including the title page) of typed-out numbers as follows:

hlubbywvrqifozmq002b8pxua_thumb_1062f-2
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation and Guggenheim Gallery, New York.


The work couldn't be dryer: just typed, spelled-out numbers in the same style as the title. The very first stage of decoding this text is to turn the spelled-out numbers into actual numbers, and to recognise that a question mark indicates the end of a line of numbers. So that first paragraph you can see at the top of the middle 'panel' on the left page goes from this (ignore the pencil marks):

dyvgexfysjs0025oqzry2fmag_thumb_106f2
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


To this:

500 0.210505106?
0.7450809 0.314175976?
60,425,071,901 675,039,976?
3 50,813. 0.40536?
5,901,802. 0.32704086?
8,101,047 601,901 0.30780031676?
50,930,805,513. 7,050,804,086?
2,000,805,513. 7,050,804,086?
0.9850103 0.3521679?
0.35809. 85.033?
59 243 0.3513?
5 0.75090804 206 95,076?

No-one would have been able to decode this back into a meaningful text, which may be why On Kawara mentioned the key to its decoding in a rare interview with Ursula Meyer in 1970. In her book, Conceptual Art, published in 1972, Meyer wrote:

'About his code: Eight Quintillion Eight Hundred and Two Quadrillion… (1969), which comprises five pages of spelled out astronomical numbers, Kawara said: "This code is easily cracked. You will find many answers which yield one question. I got this question from MAD Magazine (Number 128, July 1969)".'

As I say, a very rare example of On Kawara making a public statement about his work. Here is the cover of that MAD Magazine:

1pu1md4orc2heil7afompa_thumb_106cc
Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of MAD Magazine.


MAD, for the benefit of a UK citizen, is like a cross between Viz and Private Eye. Clearly it was essential reading for Kawara's generation of bright young Americans. The map on the inside cover (see below, left) must have intrigued him, as would have the back cover (below, right). On Kawara was a heavy smoker who read, with heavy heart and suspect lungs, about the Vietnam War in the New York Times most days when he was living in NY in the 1960s.

hqfp0hidt002bwkurcalcojoa_thumb_106cf.beafspruqsmt7jnczuybqq_thumb_106d1 Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of MAD Magazine.

Indeed, I'm going to imagine that On was in hospital when he was given the magazine by a visiting friend. It might have taken his mind off the prospect of cancer, back cover notwithstanding. Actually, I must stop myself there, for I can't assume that. Instead, On must have had an outpatient appointment. The 'I GOT UP' cards reveal that he was sleeping at 180 Centre Street all through the period in question. There is just one night when that was not the case. On Kawara did not seem to go to sleep at all on the night of July 12. This is how the 'I GOT UP' card uniquely and deliberately looks:

brjln75yr4osxpiac4cwdw_thumb_1083d ysebcppgs3mvsoommrqwng_thumb_1083f.w7epajdmqz002bmrg9002btc002bx6q_thumb_10840
Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


Now, as you can see, the only place that On Kawara went that day from 180 Centre Street (the red dot towards the right of the above map) was to 53 Greene Street (slightly north and west of his starting point). And the only people he met were those close friends: Nobu, Miyuki, Hiroko, Takashi and Soroku. (Everyone except Aoki, really.) Perhaps On was telling the friendship group about his good news re cancer. Perhaps he was telling them about his new code. In any case, he didn't go to sleep - or get up - in the 24-hour period otherwise known as July 12, 1969.

Maybe the evening started with the group reading MAD to each other, sharing in the smart, sharp, funny, left-wing writing. Maybe when the others went to bed, that was when On decided to make Code: Eight quintillion out of the double-page that may have been everybody's favourite:

mc8etjw4tj2kpe9qtyip2q_thumb_10822-2
Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Frank Jacobs and MAD Magazine.


The full story of how this code was cracked is outlined in GAME ON (36). Suffice to say here, that artist Anders Delbom was integral to the solution, and that his puzzle-solving friend, Tommy Wrede, made the crucial leap. I am so proud of the team that spontaneously came together to help me out when help is exactly what was needed!

I think Anders must have said to Tommy that all we knew for sure was that the list of numbers called Code: Eight quintillion was explained by something in this 48-page issue of Mad Magazine (because On Kawara said that to Ursula Meyer in an interview in 1970, and she wrote it down in the pages of Conceptual Art ). I think Tommy must have looked at the numbers of the code as transcribed by me from streams of letters into numbers, the first being 'five hundred' represented as '500'. And I think he must have noticed the 500 at the beginning of panel one in the above double-page spread.

rmc2jx48s4mpwcacec4rzg_thumb_10843
Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Frank Jacobs and MAD Magazine.


And his mind would have lit up - as mine subsequently did - at the sight of twelve panels with twelve lines in each panel, corresponding to the 12 paragraphs of spelled out numbers in the double-page spread in the Silence catalogue!

So let's go back to July 1969 and imagine On Kawara and friends relating to this MAD Magazine article for the first time. The reader is supposed to take one possibility from panel one, add the words 'paraded through' from the 'PROTEST NEWSPAPER STORY' control panel. Then take a sample phrase from panel two and add the word 'in' from the control panel. And so on. Here is panel 9 as a second example:

k9cs17c8qgqqyxqee0025mchq_thumb_10842
Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Frank Jacobs and MAD Magazine.


And here is the all-important control panel:

3yfwh5oisg6weqnwjvqvpw_thumb_1083e Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of Frank Jacobs and MAD Magazine.

So, just choosing the first option each time, one would have:

'500 Yippies paraded through the streets in Berkeley today protesting the war in Vietnam. The demonstration began after a bearded male was seized by an off-duty policeman. When police arrived they were greeted by a shower of rocks and shouts of "Make love, not war!" The police responded with nightsticks. Speaking over television, this evening, the Governor declared a state of emergency and called for calm.'

The Vietnam mention makes me associate the above paragraph with On Kawara. I can't help imagining MAD getting passed round to the evening's host, Nobu Fukui. What choices would he have made? Would he have come up with a similar or a very different newspaper protest story? Let's see:

'A bunch of nuts paraded through a vacant lot in Greenwich Village today protesting slumlords. The demonstration began after a Viet Cong flag was hugged and kissed by the President. When police arrived they were greeted by a shower of old Nixon buttons and shouts of "Walt Disney lives!". The police responded with a big hello. Speaking over television, this evening, the Governor declared the sky was falling and called Dial-a-Prayer.'

Yes, there is quite a bit of licence in this set up. So what would Takashi Hashimoto have gone for? Something to suggest his shared South American experience with On and Hiroko? Something referencing one or two gauchos on horseback?

'3 Acid heads paraded through the sewers in new Spring hats today protesting school bussing. The demonstration began after a C.I.A agent was denounced by a CBS news team. When police arrived they were greeted by a shower of rain and shouts of "Burn, baby, burn!". The police responded with tear gas. Speaking over television, this evening, the Governor declared he was a new grandfather and called up the National Guard.'

Amusement all round. And MAD was passed to Hiroko. At last a woman speaks!

'An old maid paraded through the girl's dorm in Berkeley today protesting the war in Vietnam. The demonstration began after a moustached female was fondled by advocates of free love. When police arrived they were greeted by a shower of flowers and shouts of "Make love, not war!". The police responded with a song. Speaking over television, this evening, the Governor declared a new holiday and called his mother.'

Some overlap between On's and Hiroko's choices, I'm pleased to note!

So perhaps On Kawara and his friends went though a few further possibilities as On internally congratulated himself on the result of his cancer tests. Later (if not earlier, as it was on July 14 that Hiroko enclosed the typed pages of Code: Eight quintillion in her letter to Kasper Konig), On realised he could use the MAD feature in another way. He could make a code out of it. (After all, not one of its 12 x 12 = 144 options had anything to do with cancer, or any other illness, or doctors, or hospitals.) So that the double-page spread could be recreated by anyone who had the code, and the night's especially high spirits could be recreated anytime and never be lost sight of.

The feature starts '500 Yippies'. Which has to code into 500 0.210505106This becomes the first line of Code, being 'Five hundred two hundred ten million five hundred five thousand one hundred and six millionths'. How did On put it to Ursula Meyers again? 'This code is easily cracked. You will find many answers which yield one question.' To which Ursula Meyers commented 'He enjoys punning the self-seriousness of artists - '"Recreation is more important than creation."

So that first line again, '500 YIPPIES'. 500 doesn't need coding, but 'YIPPIES' does::

Y = 02
I = 1
P = 05
P = 05
I = 1
E = 0
S = 6

If a numbers such as 02 (or 03 or 04 etc.) comes first, then it has to be expressed as 0.2. It's that which decides whether a number is going to be a multiple of one or a fraction.

Tommy Wrede went through panel one and found out the numbers corresponding to most of the letters of the alphabet. Though he may have had to go through a few panels before the more obscure letters like Q, X and Z were lined up with numbers, either 1 to 9, 01 to 09, or 10 to 60. The code in full:

A = 5
B = 07
C = 08
D = 3
E = 0
F = 06
G = 01
H = 04
I = 1
J = 10
K = 09
L = 4
M = 03
N = 9
O = 2
P = 05
Q = 20
R = 8
S = 6
T = 7
U = 50
V = 00
W = 60
X = 30
Y = 02
Z = 40

Numbers 70, 80 and 90 were not required as there are only 26 letters in the alphabet needing coding.

If you apply the above code to the two-number title, you get

0.8 8 02 05 7 2 01 8 5 05 04 1 08
C R Y P T O G R A P H I C

20 50 0 6 7 1 2 9 9 5 1 8 0
Q U E S T I O N N A I R E

Cryptography is the process of hiding or coding information so that only the person a message was intended for can read it. Which means that Code: Eight quintillion was written by On Kawara specially for Anders Delbom, Tommy Wrede, myself and everyone who is reading this chapter!

Perhaps I am over-egging this. Perhaps the solving of On Kawara's Code is not such a big deal. After all, the piece Code: Eight quintillion was not really in the public realm until 2015, when On Kawara: Silence was published. At least I don't know of its earlier appearance in a publication. Though it was created in 1969 for a project by artist James Lee Byars (who was working in Belgium, hence Hiroko sending it to Kasper who was also living there at the time). And it was reproduced in the 2015 catalogue in such a way that the 'numbers' could hardly be read without a magnifying glass. My team may have made the first protracted effort to solve the puzzle, so let's not be too hard on the rest of humanity which has been oblivious to the problem's existence. Besides, the work is almost an aside, completed (I'm supposing) in that period where On Kawara had been anxiously awaiting his cancer test results and not in the mood to be Date Painting. There were no Dates painted between July 4 and July 16, 1969.

Let's get things in perspective. On Kawara made Code: Eight quintillion in 1969, the same year - as we'll see, post-cancer scare - that he did a lot of other glorious work. He realised he needed to put into the public realm the information that the key to the code was a text in Mad Magazine, so he did that in the 1970 interview with Ursula Meyer. He published the piece called Code: Eight quintillion on his deathbed knowing that in maybe 100 years, maybe 1000, an art historian would decode it after coming across the key in Ursula Meyer's Conceptual Art. But along came Anders, Tommy and myself and the code was deciphered in 2024, just ten years after On Kawara's death.

The day in which the definitive cracking of the code was communicated to me from Sweden, I went for a walk and found myself passing from a Perthshire field where sheep were grazing to a crowded Manhattan street circa 1969. I bumped into On Kawara who handed me the piece of work called Code in typed manuscript form.

On: "If you buy the current issue of of MAD Magazine the code is very easy to crack."

Me: "You mean it will take me about ten minutes flat?"

On: "Certainly not any longer than that."

Me: "Not fifty years and ten minutes then?"

On: "Ah, you've got me, Duncan. You must have been the cleverest boy in your class at school."

Me: " I don't know about cleverest. There was a team of us. I was the boy who couldn't stop playing games."





FOUR

And so we approach the main fun and games of 1969. In On Kawara's view the single most important thing that happened in the world at large in his adult life. "One small step for man, one huge leap for mankind."

There is a catalogue that was produced in 2018 by Glenstone, a gallery in Potomac, Maryland, a couple of hours travel south from New York, focussing on the three huge Date Paintings that were made in the second half of July. In the catalogue essay, Lynne Tillman, who spoke to Hiroko Hiraoka while researching her essay, tells us: 'When Kawara learned the moon landing would be broadcast over twenty-four hours, he decided to watch as much of it as he could. Staying awake for twenty-four hours allowed him the opportunity to do a larger-scale work. He would complete the largest canvas he had yet made for the Today series. The three paintings designated as the Moon Landing triptych were not intended to be a set when he painted them. That happened later.'

That statement is of interest because of something that's been bothering me. Date Paintings are about process. They are about discipline. They are not about celebrating some days as special. Every day is special, that's the point. Either you're conscious or you're not. If the paintings vary in number, or size, or colour, this, for the most part, was due to some aspect of process.

But there is no denying that On Kawara was particularly interested in the space program. The subtitles of 'Today' have been mentioning it from the start. And so it is difficult to avoid the notion that On Kawara was intent on paying special attention to these days of the first venture onto another 'planet'. However, the fact that we learn from Lynne Tillman that the artist intended to stay awake all day and night, so as to be able to paint for longer, brings us back to process. At least on one level, these paintings were going to be bigger because On Kawara was going to be spending as much of the 24 hours as he could, working on the canvas.

July 16 would be the first canvas he painted at what he referred to as size H. That's 61" by 89". A canvas this size would not have been painted in the same way as the smaller canvases. It would have been painted vertically, against a wall, not horizontally, on a desk. At least the artist had experience of painting in this way when he produced September 20,1966, the even larger painting that he destroyed because he spent more than twenty-four hours - possibly several days - painting it.

However, On Kawara had not painted anything larger than a size 'B' Date since September 1967, when he'd made a couple of size 'C' paintings. For size 'E' or 'F' one needs to go back to 1966, before his use of templates. It has to be said that using a template would make the drawing of characters with a circular component much easier.

So let's just see if On made use of the template again in order to do justice to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. Let me juxtapose JULY 4, 1967 with the Moon Landing triptych of 1979.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_ea91-2.vhc58wpvqhiqbihblihl0025w_thumb_d1e4-2 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

ikik0nuyrwaemr4js10025gda_thumb_d1e5.q3dievdjrzczsuygsgnshq_thumb_d1e6 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I would say that any small difference is accounted for by that same small difference between the size 'C' templates and the size 'H' templates.

The Glenstone catalogue contains illustrations of the Moon Landing triptych. Apparently, late in his life, On Kawara was consulted on the design of the gallery, including materials, textures and light sources.



jeaqwhzcqb002b002bcs5nuqd002bng_thumb_d1e3 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The Glenstone catalogue tells us that the three large paintings, for practical reasons, do not have the usual hand-made cardboard boxes to fit into, along with an extract from a newspaper printed on that same day. Instead, the cardboard boxes are much smaller than the canvases, designed to be big enough to hold an entire copy of The New York Times when folded once.


jvtbquhuroc2a5m2dq7yeg_thumb_d1db Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.


For some reason, On Kawara made two boxes for the third picture, JULY 21, 1969. Perhaps because he couldn't choose between the merits of two newspapers.


aikak6jlrqeo3poub54w9w_thumb_d1dd Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I should mention also that the On Kawara catalogue from Dallas Museum reproduces what On Kawara filed in his 'I READ' for July 16, 20 and 21, 1969.


agzh8ul7qj002bleu6lt86axw_thumb_d1de Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara's red pen (in the above) indicates that it was the New York Times for July 17 that he took the story of what happened on the moon on July 16. But for 'I READ' on July 20 (see below), he was able to extract an article from the same day's paper.

002bgkzyvyyq0umom0025asfw3rw_thumb_d1df Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.



And for July 21, he had to revert to the usual system of needing to get info from the following day's paper. I wonder if the various red lines were guides to himself for subsequent cutting out, or whether he had an assistant to do this for him. After all, Neil Armstrong couldn't have done it all on his own. He needed back up.


cob9jzjaszuxx4mdkife1w_thumb_d1e0 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

What the Glenstone catalogue doesn't provide is information (or illustration) about what else was going on in On Kawara's integrated practice at the time. Who did On Kawara meet from July 16 to July 21? 'I MET' will tell us. Where did he go? 'I WENT' will tell us. Perhaps he stayed in the studio the whole time, just as the astronauts were confined to their spacecraft. Who did On Kawara send postcards to? Did he change recipients for this extraordinary event? What was the picture on the chosen postcards? And what time did he get up? Did he even get up at all? Having said that he was going to watch all 24 hours of the TV coverage, did he stick to this? And did this apply just to the day of the moon walk or to the whole mission? Presumably the latter, or it would only have been July 20, 1969, that was super-sized.

As I've already said, the only copy of 'I MET' that is in a public institution is held by the Art Gallery of Ontario. The set was donated by Tom Bjarnason, now deceased, whose name I’ve seen in connection with the Toronto showing of On Kawara's show, Pure Consciousness, in 2008. The Edward P. Taylor Library and Archives at the AGO has kindly listed for me the people who On Kawara met on the six days from July 16 to July 21, 1969.

Likewise, the only copy of 'I WENT' that is in a public institution is held by the University of Michigan. As part of the package of 50 maps sent to me, I have 'I WENT' for July 16, 19, 20 and 21, 1969. Why didn't I ask for July 17 and July 18, as well? I thought it would prevent me from asking for maps in other years from 1968 to 1979. I know, I know, the summer of '69 was a crucial period. But, dear reader, give me a break. The four most important maps out of six will just have to be enough.

These last two paragraphs are superseded by Tama putting all the data online from Michelle Didier's 2004 - 2008 complete editions of I GOT UP, I WENT and I MET. Blast, I wasn't going to keep saying that.

DAY ONE: JULY 16, 1969

As On Kawara painted a size 'H' Date Painting on this day, he clearly spent most of the time at his studio. In fact, the 'I WENT' for that day is a single red dot. So the artist remained in his studio all day. As the red dot is difficult to make out on the copy of the map of Manhattan that has come to me from the University of Michigan, I have asked the scientists at NASA to highlight it, as they would an astronaut on the surface of the moon. As they have nothing else to do these days, they were happy to oblige:


fh5tiaduteoa9ugtzu002bofa_thumb_e203 Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, One Million Years Foundation.

Because On Kawara was planning to paint such an abnormally large Date, it is possible that he took this into account when taking on a new studio at the beginning of May. It may have had to be a loft. I'm talking about 180 Centre Street, where On and Hiroko had been living and working since May 1, 1969

Let's turn to 'I MET'. The people that On Kawara met on the day that Apollo 11 blasted off, were as follows. I am going to colour code Hiroko, Aoki and, in subsequent lists, Nobu and Takashi.

JULY 16, 1969
HIROKO HIRAOKA
HIROTSUGU AOKI
TORLEE PHILIPS

As we know, On Kawara was at the studio from midnight as July 15 became July 16, for the full 24 hours. It's possible that Hiroko stayed with On all day, just to be in on the action, but that is speculation.

Hirotsugu Aoki was On's good friend, and I am not surprised that he was welcomed into the studio where the painting was happened. Interesting that Nobu is not on the list. He did not see JULY 16 being painted. Perhaps On Kawara didn't want him there, bearing in mind Nobu's history with On's templates.

I wonder who Torlee Phillips was. Perhaps she and Aoki (as he is known by everyone), either together or separately, called in to see how On's giant painting was coming along. On had long been planning to make a special effort to commemorate the moon landing.

And by the end of the day, here it was, that special effort:

dh0q002bvlkscymek1wgyrula_thumb_d1ee Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

If On Kawara stayed awake and painted for the whole of July 16 (as Lynne Tillman was told by Hiroko decades later, in 2018), then he didn't GET UP at any time and would not have sent out any postcards. But that's not what happened. On Kawara did indeed send a card to Konrad Fischer every day from July 16 to July 21. I do not have a good copy of the postcards, so will rely on my powers of description which is fine for the message side: JULY, 16, 1969: 'I GOT UP AT 10.07A.M.'

That is what I would call a normal getting up time. It may be that On Kawara put the first coat of sienna/umber down at midnight and then went to bed. He may even have put both coats of sienna/umber down before going to bed, confident that by rising at about 10A.M. he would get the painting done. He may even have stayed up long enough to lay down the first coat of near-black…Well, you get the idea. Anyway, he got up just after ten.

The address stamp on the card is 180 Centre Street. The good quality installation shot I've already mentioned, provided to my by Sotaro Okamoto, associate curator of the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in Sakura, Japan, where the postcards were on display in spring, 2022, gives me every single scrap of data on the postcard. From a scrutiny of the 120 cards from the beginning of April to the end of July, the artist began by sending them from 53 Greene Street, the loft home of Nobu Fujui, and then 97 Crosby Street, which was the address associated with his other close friend, Hirotsugo Aoki. Then, at the beginning of May, 180 Centre Street became the address stamped on the majority of the cards, with 53 Greene Street cropping up twice more. So presumably 180 Centre Street was indeed a loft studio On rented, possibly with the size 'H' project in mind.

And the picture on the postcard? It is a view of New York streets, foregrounding a Chinese building. No easy Apollo connection to be made.


DAY TWO: JULY 17, 1969

I don't have the 'I WENT' for this day, Thursday, as previously explained. (I do now.) I expect On left the studio at some point and went to 53 Greene Street. (He did exactly that.) As we'll see from the 'I WENT' and the 'I GOT UP' of July 19, going between these two places was a feature of these days.

JULY 17, 1969
HIROKO HIRAOKA
CHUCK FREHSE
HIROTSUGU AOKI
TAKASHI HASHIMOTO
NOBUMITSU FUKUI
MIYUKI FUKUI


Let's consider this list. On's close friend, Hirotsugu Aoki appears on four out of the six days between July 16 and July 21.

Takashi Hashimoto crops up 4 times over the six days. This is the same person who appears on the 'I MET' list in Mexico City every day of the last week in July, 1968. Altogether there were six individuals with a Hashimoto surname that On Kawara 'met' in July, 1968. On also met Takashi in Lima in October, 1968. And he was with On and Hiroko for a gaucho-filled week in Buenos Aires. Clearly they got to know each other well, though he does not seem to have been an artist. A charming, bright young man, I'm sure

As we know, Nobu Fukui was and is a practising artist. It may be that On met him at 53 Greene Street rather than at the Centre Street loft. As I suggest, On may have been a little cautious about letting Nobu see exactly what he was doing in the studio given what happened on June 2, 1967 to celebrate Nobu's birthday. I mean the 'Date Painting' made with On's templates, the date rendered meaningless. On wouldn't have been too pleased to find that Nobu had made giant Apollo dates with the letters and numbers written upside down and backwards on a purple background, for example.

July 17, wasn't a painting day, it may have been a recovery day. So On may have casually come across people that were part of his social circle. No doubt they all knew what was going on: On was dating the moon.

After the drama of lift-off on July 16, Apollo 11 would have been making steady progress towards the moon throughout the 17th and 18th and 19th. The blanket TV coverage may have continued. Or it may not. On may have been glued to the telly. Or he may have taken a break. Even the astronauts would have been mostly coasting on July 17 and 18, surely.

The postcard to Konrad Fischer tells us, perhaps unsurprisingly, that On got up fairly late on July the 17th: 'I GOT UP AT 12.30PM'. The artist needed to recover from his painting effort of July 16 - I can imagine there was a lot of adrenalin flowing in the early hours of July 17 - and to get ready for painting efforts to come on July 20 and 21.

The address stamped on the card is again 180 Centre Street, New York. On the picture side can be seen a group of people standing on a viewing platform above New York. A woman in a green coat and another in a red coat. The skyscrapers of Manhattan are all around them. It is an amazing view, when looked at objectively, say from any century prior to the Twentieth:

Green coat: "What planet are we on?" Red coat: "I was just wondering that myself."



DAY THREE: JULY 18, 1969


JULY 18, 1969
NOBUMITSU FUKUI
MIYUKI FUKUI
HIROKO HIRAOKA
TAKASHI HASHIMOTO
HIROTSUGU AOKI
SOROKU TOYOSHIMA
USHIO SHINOHARA
TAKESHI KAWASHIMA


Friday. Not a painting day. Perhaps the Fukuis stayed with On and Hiroko until after midnight. Otherwise, Hiroko would have been the first person that On Kawara 'met' in the 'morning'.

Takashi Hashimoto may have been staying with the Kawaras, and so he was met in the 'morning' also.

Soruku Toyoshima, Ushio Shinohara and Takeshi Kawashima are all Japanese-American artists, per Ansell Bray's information given while I was writing the first draft of the 1973 essay in 2021. Ansell described Takeshi as the extremely sociable hub of a group of Japanese artists, often hosting games parties, such as mah-jongg. Parties that could go on for days.

More than that, the names Nobu, Aoki, Soroku and Takeshi (plus On and Hiroko) are the core of the mah-jongg games as mentioned by three sources: Ansell Bray, Nobu Fukui and Tatsuo Kondo, who wrote regular letters to an editor in Tokyo throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

From now until splashdown, it would be an all-Japanese party as far as On was concerned. Not forgetting postcards to Konrad Fischer. So let's turn to the card for July 18, 1969. First the message side. The card is addressed 180 Centre Street. Its main message is: 'I GOT UP AT 1P.M.' I think he'd been playing mah-jongg into the early hours of the morning. And the picture postcard? A view of Manhattan as if taken from an orbiting spacecraft.



DAY FOUR: JULY 19, 1969


JULY 19, 1969
SOROKU TOYOSHIMA
HIROTSUGU AOKI
TAKESHI KAWASHIMA
HIROKO HIRAOKA
NOBUMITSU FUKUI
MIYUKI FUKUI
TAKASHI HASHIMOTO

Saturday. Again, not a painting day. A mah-jongg 'party' went on until after midnight. Which makes it difficult to say where the actual 'morning' meetings started. (This is true of the previous day as well.) Indeed, it could have been a party that continued from one day to the next, as only one name has dropped out, from July 18, and that's Ushio Shinohara.

I should mention in passing that Soroku Toyoshima was another of On's great friends, who he would regularly meet throughout the 1970s and beyond. Like On, He was born in Japan, developed an interest in art then migrated to America. He was part of the mah-jongg core group. More about Soroku later.

This is the only Apollo mission day when On 'GOT UP' anywhere other than at 180 Centre Street. He 'GOT UP' at 53 Greene Street (as he had done on June 21 and those first eight days in April). Given this address and the people On interacted with on July 19, serious mah-jongg with hie peers must have been part of the package.

I have the 'I WENT' for this day:


1fhh8jgmsjgva7uzjdmcjw_thumb_e212 Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, One Million Years Foundation.

The day began with On Kawara at the flat at 53 Greene Street (playing mah-jongg, I'm supposing) and ended with him in position to begin painting at midnight in his studio. Looking at the movements in more detail. The only additional stop was on Lispenard Street, where Soroku Toyoshima lived. On's loft, Nobu's loft and Soroku's loft. That's those three places marked. Meanwhile, in the sky above, 238,855 miles from Manhattan, Apollo 11 was orbiting the moon.

Now to append the rest of the postcard information. First the message side. I repeat that 53 Greene Street is given as the address. Which confirms the above analysis based on the 'I WENT' map. 'I GOT UP AT 9.07A.M.' On would seem to have caught up on the sleep he missed on July 16 while doing his first size 'H' painting. Let's turn to the picture side. Looking down at Manhattan from on high. Central Park cutting a green square out of the skyscrapers.



DAY FIVE: JULY 20, 1969

Sunday. Ensconced in the studio all day. The preparations for the moon landing would have been watched on telly. The moon walk was scheduled for the evening, by which time On would have hoped to be well on with his painting. This was not a painting that he wanted to leave unfinished at midnight.

Over to NASA:

7agrhxj5tyqmhxake0lsyw_thumb_e204 Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, One Million Years Foundation.

Here is the I MET List.

JULY 20, 1969
TAKASHI HASHIMOTO
HIROKO HIRAOKA

Takashi was the last name on Saturday's list. Perhaps Takashi and Hiroko walked with On to his studio late on Saturday night and were still there at midnight when On began his Date Painting.

Neither Aoki nor Nobu witnessed the second of the moon landing Dates being made.

I realise that the dot made on the July 20, 1969 map is clearer than that on the July 16, 1969 map. So let it speak for itself:

gfpgosvqtzejnpkf0j6pzw_thumb_e211 Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, One Million Years Foundation.

Here is what came of On's disciplined and meticulous (inspired and relentless) work that day:

i0th3wwnscopmn6ggpgk7w_thumb_d1f7 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I wonder whether Takashi Hashimoto or Hiroko were the first people to see this finished painting. I wonder what they said.

The postcard for July 20th was sent from 180 Centre Street (of course) and tells us: 'I GOT UP AT 12.47P.M.'

As with the giant painting made on July 16, I think we can assume that On Kawara laid the first few layers down in the early hours of the morning. He might then have gone to sleep for a few hours so that he would be well rested for the part of his day's work that would require concentration: the careful drawing (around templates, I'm thinking) of the letters and numbers in pencil and their accurate filling-in with white paint.

By the evening he would have been coasting. I mean he would have been perfecting his characters in between watching Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Big strides on the moon being juxtaposed with tiny improvements to the Date Painting. The phrase: "A small date for man; a giant Date for Mankind," comes to mind.

Picture side of the Dusseldorf postcard as sent to Konrad Fischer from On Kawara? The island of Manhattan surrounded by calm water.

In the Glenstone catalogue, as well as Lynne Tillman's essay, there is a reprint of an article first published in the July 26 issue of The New Yorker. It paints a vivid picture of New York on the Sunday night of the moon landing. Though 180 Centre Street is not included in its survey. This is how it begins:


'By 10pm, Sunday, twelve hundred people had gathered at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Fiftieth Street, between Radio City Music Hall and the Time-Life Plaza….Rain had been falling since 7.30pm…Umbrellas obscured some people's view of what everyone was trying to watch - a fifteen-foot by fifteen-foot screen on the western edge of the intersection, on which N.B.C.'s coverage of the moon landing was being shown in colour.'

Here is another para:

'As the rain came down steadily and a premature darkness came over the city, hundreds of people streamed through Central Park and converged on the centre of the Sheep Meadow to join the Moon-In crowd that was already standing in a huge circle around three nine-by-twelve-foot television screens set up in triangular formation and tuned to three different channels. In front of the CBS screen, five young men in beards shared a large green-red-and-yellow striped beach umbrella; next to them stood a couple huddled beneath a bed quilt; and nearby three girls who had contrived a makeshift tent out of an Army-surplus blanket and a pair of sanitation trash baskets were playing scrabble. As the scheduled moment for the hatch opening approached, the crowd grew still, and every gaze appeared to be fixed on a television screen. Then came the announcement that the moon walk would be delayed for half an hour, and there was a sustained groan of disappointment.'

I suspect On Kawara would have finished his July 20 Date Painting before ten pm. By then he would have wanted to be concentrating on watching Armstrong descend the ladder and place a foot onto the moon. And if the walk was going to be delayed, that would make things even more awkward.

There is a song that came out a year later, written by Gil Scott-Heron, inspired by the moon landing. The lyrics state:

"I can't pay no doctor bill. (but Whitey's on the moon) Ten years from now I'll be payin' still. (while Whitey's on the moon)

On Kawara would have known where such lyrics came from. Didn't his Date paintings regularly refer to the inferior position of blacks in American society, to racial discrimination? And the references to Viet Nam, and, by implication the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe there's a poem written by an Asian man or woman called 'Whitey and his bomb'.

So on many levels On Kawara would have been cynical about the Apollo Mission. He would have known that his Moon Landing triptych might just as well have been called the Cold War triptych. But, over and above this, there was something about the enterprise that he approved of. Mankind was making a mess of its own planet, but it was the noblest part of the species that was turning its attention to outer space. Any number of science fiction writers in the 1960s and 70s thought the same. To seek out new worlds. To boldly go where no man had gone before.

At twelve minutes to midnight on Sunday, July 20, President Nixon (who had already featured in a January subtitle of 1969, in a Vietnam context) spoke to Neil Armstrong. At midnight, On Kawara may have begun to paint the dark background of 21 JULY, 1969. Back to the New Yorker:

'After the President had finished, it was announced that Armstrong had been on the moon for fifty-nine minutes, and suddenly Aldrin could be seen floating gracefully over the lunar surface as he performed mobility exercises.'

As usual, I expect On Kawara would have applied four background layers of acrylic, two referring back to cave paintings and two near-black. It would have taken longer than usual because of the size of the canvas, and because he had half an eye on what was happening on the TV set in the studio. Luckily he had templates to help him stay clean.

'At one o'clock, the voice of Mission Control told Aldrin to "head on up the ladder," and announced that Armstrong had been on the surface of the moon for slightly more than two hours.' Later, the article tells us, the TV screen showed a picture of the Lunar Module as it sat serenely in the Sea of Tranquility.



DAY SIX: JULY 21, 1969

Straight on to the next size 'H' painting.

On did leave the studio this day, but didn't walk far.

4xkofkufqtwndkzt0yru0025a_thumb_e213 Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, One Million Years Foundation.

And the probability is that he retraced his footsteps shortly after. That's how I interpret the red line, anyway.

thkiizawqkmakayvjkec0a_thumb_dde5 Reproduced and annotated with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holders, One Million Years Foundation.

It's possible that On left the studio to post his day's card. Or perhaps as a successful splashdown in the Pacific had happened by about 5pm in the afternoon, On wanted to share with fellow New Yorkers the sense of 'mission accomplished' before returning to his studio to complete his own mission.

Let's find out who he met that day.

JULY 21, 1969
HIROKO HIRAOKA
HIROTSUGU AOKI

I imagine both Hiroko and Aoki met On at the studio. Or perhaps they met at restaurant at the junction of Bayard Street and Mott Street and went to the studio with him. Only loved ones would have been permitted access to the inner sanctum. Note that once again Nobu was not in On's studio to see the making of the moon landing Date.
Aoki: "Beautiful view."
Hiroko: "Isn't that something! Magnificent sight out here."
Aoki: "Magnificent desolation."

f7saxau002brly002b0pcybqyzag_thumb_d1f8 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I've left the 'I GOT UP' postcard to last again. The address is 180 Centre Street, which makes perfect sense. The message is: 'I GOT UP AT 10.02A.M.'

The picture side is a view of Manhattan, taken, let's say, as Apollo 11 had re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and was plunging towards the blue ocean that you know surrounds the island of skyscrapers.

Congratulations to On Kawara for completing his three enormous Date Paintings while keeping up his 'I GOT UP', 'I MET' and 'I WENT' series. For some reason he never drew attention to the totality of what he achieved in this period. Not even to the curators at Glenstone Museum, where the moon landing triptych is permanently installed. I hope the artist will forgive me for attempting, in these preceding paragraphs, to pull things together in 2023, more than fifty years after the event.

How about this for a recreation of the lunar module. It's how the complete set of 120 postcards to Konrad Fisher were shown in Japan in 2022. Extremely high quality versions are in my Photos, allowing me to zoom in on anything.

First the message side:

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And the postcard side:

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And I can't resist pulling out the postcard (second from the left of the third row up) that best sums up the Apollo 11 mission:

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It could almost be a photo of a mah-jongg tournament taken when the players are taking a break, moving between tables and swopping notes on the newly finished game. The talk is of red and green dragons and the four winds.





FIVE

On Kawara began painting again on the 1st of August, and made five Date Paintings in the month, all either size B or C.

'I MET', 'I WENT' and 'I GOT UP' would all have been carrying on in August. I'm almost glad none of it is reproduced in books or catalogues, I don't want to get bogged down in such detail right now. There's no way I can cover everything and keep this readable. (Says me in 2022.)

Another five Date Paintings in September, again all size B or C. Three of the subtitles concern relatively poor people losing their territory or demonstrating against low wages. And then there's this for September 24: "For two days, some 700,000 years ago, the flat-browed Java man looked into the sky and saw a glittering cloud plunging toward the earth." It puts me in mind of the opening section of 2001: A Space Odyssey. A film that On Kawara had almost certainly seen, given that he did go to the cinema and space travel was a major interest of his. The 700,000 years puts me in mind of something else, which you might be able to guess at, and which I'll get to very soon.

By October, On Kawara was back into his stride. He made ten Date Paintings, all size B. A scrutiny of On Kawara by Candida Höfer reveals where three of these October paintings were hanging as at 2004 - 2007. It's a splendid book, without any distracting text. Not even any blurb on the flaps of the dust wrapper. It was published in Cologne by Walther König, a relation of Kasper König. Indeed the collections of several members of the König family are glimpsed in the book, which is systematically photographed by Candida Höfer. What I mean is, the photographs are shown in the order they were taken as she travelled round the world: Europe, North America, Japan and Europe again, beginning on May 4, 2004, and completing her task on August 15, 2007.

The subtitle of October 23, 1969 is: "In Stockholm, Samuel Beckett was announced today as the winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature." In my opinion, the Nobel jury did themselves, not Beckett, a big favour that year, giving the prize a gravitas that it had previously lacked.Though having said that, the Japanese author, Yasunari Kawabata received the prize the previous year and On Kawara places some newspaper articles from South America in his 'I READ' of that time.

Here is On Kawara's 'I READ' for the Nobel announcement in 1969, reproduced from the SILENCE catalogue. The sentence that On Kawara used as his subtitle comes from words that he'd underlined. Though I like the way his pen does an approving loop through the following paragraph: "The selection committee, comprising members of the Swedish Academy, cited him 'for his writing which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation." Actually, the squiggle may be one of dissatisfaction with the mangled sentence construction. I see that Waiting for Godot is underlined in red biro too.

rwsfjears0qjjsvjxpayaq_thumb_d200 Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

On Kawara is known to have admired the novels of Jean Paul Sartre, such as Nausea and The Roads to Freedom trilogy. Beckett too was famous for his 'existentialism'. Is life worth living? That was his question. Which is what's known as a 'first world problem', as the subtitle for October 26 brings home: "Palestinian commando leaders at Nahr Al Bared in northern Lebanon reported today that they controlled the Lebanese coast from there nine miles northward to the Syrian border."

From August to December, there were only two recipients of 'I GOT UP' cards used in the 2008 book produced with Michelle Didier. That's Riko Mizuno, who began to get cards from August 1, following on from Konrad Fischer. Riko was a gallerist in L.A. who had been born in Japan. The other was Lucy Lippard, living in New York, who received a card from November 10 onwards. That does leave the second card unknown for August to December, but surely On Kawara deserves to retain some ambiguity.

1iplydgjtkqc631umrdhwq_thumb_cfdc Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

There is a slight mystery here. If On and Hiroko had held onto 340 East 13th Street since before the year-long trip to Mexico and South America, why did they not stay there when they returned to New York at the beginning of April? Instead they stayed at 97 Crosby Street and 53 Greene Street, lofts rented by their friends Aoki and the Fukuis. Maybe they wanted to stay in their friends lofts for friendship sake. Maybe there wasn't room for a bed at 340 East 13th Street.

Lucy Lippard lived on Prince Street, close to both 53 Greene Street and to 97 Crosby Street. She was another long-term player in the New York art world. And she made use of the postcard from her friend for the cover of Materialising Six Years, which was published in 1973.

Here is a table from the book which lists some of the postcards she received from On Kawara in 1969. Note the getting up times:


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On Kawara got up in the afternoon on every day except November 19 and 20. His days of Date Painting were November 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 18, 18, 19, 19, 19, 20, 26. Therefore the day he made three Date Paintings (the 19th) he did have the decency to get up before noon. I think it's important to say that during this month, On Kawara got up in the afternoon whether or not he was Date Painting. In other words, another aspect of his daily routine (playing mah-jongg, I imagine) was keeping him up for hours after midnight.

I've been sent by AGO the 'I MET' lists for the week, November 21 to 27, 1969. Altogether there are 22 different names on the lists, all but three of them would seem to be Japanese. And the non-Japanese names were met only once. Hiroko was met all seven days, with Katsusuke Miyauchi met four days, Takashi Hashimoto and Hirotsugu Aoki - names familiar from the Moon Landing time back in July - three days each.

Katsusuke Miyauchi is the Japanese author that On impressed in Mexico. So let's see what he went on to say in the text that was included (in Japanese) in On Kawara: Whole and Parts:

'We met again nearly 400 days after Mexico when I visited his apartment in East Village, New York.

400 days after May 30, 1968 would take us too early July, 1969. However, Miyauchi's name does not occur during the Apollo 11 period from July 16 to 21, 1969. And AGO has now informed me that his name does not appear on any July 1969 'I MET' list. The publication of the complete 'I MET'; by Tama Art University in autumn 2023 shows us that Katsusuke Miyauchi arrived in New York in September, and met On Kawara regularly for the rest of the year.

There was a canvas on the table that wasn’t dry yet, and the date of the day was about to be drawn. [No mention of templates.] The wall had his 100-year calendar on it. White paper was piled up on another table, and on that paper:

B.C. 998,029 B.C.998,028 B.C. 998,027

The years B.C. were continued with a typewriter. “It’s a million-year period. I started with the intention of making one book, but even if I type in 500 years per page, I end up with 2000 pages. The history of mankind begins around the last tenth of the 2000,” he said. One million years…It was only one million times of the earth revolving around the sun.

I had thought that Million Years was begun in 1970 and finished in 1971. That's what Anne Wheeler tells us in On Kawara: SILENCE. And she had On Kawara's records to look at and the artist to ask. For sure, Katsuke Miyauchi was meeting On Kawara in autumn 1969, but those meetings also went on into 1970 until On left New York for Tokyo in November. In any case, what Katsusuke has to say is of intense biographical interest:

'His daily life in New York was no different from when in Mexico. When he woke up, he mailed a picture postcard of I GOT UP. Then spent 6 or 7 hours drawing the date, continued to hit the million-year work with a typewriter. From time to time, he responded to requests for works, and as a personal communication, with a telegram that read: ‘I AM STILL ALIVE ON KAWARA.’ And before going to sleep, he erased the date of the day from his 100-year-calendar with a diagonal line.'

All in all, Katsuke Miyauchi's account, written in retrospect, cannot be totally accurate, because the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams did not begin until January, 1970, as I'll soon describe.

'One day, I was able to see the total amount of work on the date he had been making for the last seven years. It had already reached the quantity of a thousand and several hundred paintings.'

Numbers of Date Paintings? 1966: 241. 1967: 201. 1968:136. 1969: 104. 1970: 139. 1971: 126. Cumulative total after six years, 947. 1972: 63. Cumulative total after seven years: 1,010. So again there is something not quite accurate here. Though it all suggests that Katsusuke Miyauchi was in New York for several years, from 1969 to 1972.

'In a dark warehouse seeing the plethora of dates, I was reminded of a famous astronomer who had been transmitting messages into space for years…'

Back to November, 1969. I imagine that On was starting the paintings after midnight, laying down several layers of background while playing mah-jongg, then going to bed around 9am, say. On Kawara couldn't have seen much daylight in November of 1969.

The long night of the Date Painter. I would like to see reproductions of these Dates to see if they were black. It's just possible that the choice of background colour was influenced by the colour of the post-midnight sky. Though that wouldn't account for his occasional use of red background.

In all, fifteen Dates were produced in November, beginning with one (NOV.3) mentioning President Nixon's ambition to find peace in Viet Nam, and ending with one (NOV. 26) mentioning Japanese Premier Eisaku Sato's promise that Okinawa would remain free of nuclear weapons after it reverted to Japanese administration in 1972.

However, the dominant theme of the November subtitles is Apollo 12. There are six of these, November 13, 14, 19, 19, 19 and 20. Of course, the reason that On Kawara has painted three Dates on the 19th is because he was watching men walking on the Moon for only the second time in man's history. He wanted to make a big effort of his own to celebrate the astronauts' achievement.

December. Following the 15 DPs in November, there were 22 made in December, all size 'B'. On Kawara was flying again, and what's more he was moving towards something new: the 'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams. Although the first of these were sent in January of 1970, as with the 'I GOT UP' postcards, the exact form took a while to finalise. In other words, On Kawara sent three preliminary telegrams to curator Michel Claura on December 5th, 8th and 11th of 1969. These would be his contribution to the exhibition '18 Paris IV 1970'. Here is the first of those telegrams:


frklfmgaqkmixmsfy0ubeg_thumb_d20e Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

It's an absurdist joke that Samuel Beckett would have been proud of making. A telegram from Estragon to Vladimir between the acts of Waiting For Godot?

Here is the second of the pre-'I AM STILL ALIVE' telegrams:

q6vhjaaqt6002blhv4pjjhoew_thumb_d20b Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

This brings to mind a scene involving On Kawara and one of his Japanese friends, set on a corner of Manhattan between Eldridge and Grand Streets. But which friend? Takashi? Soroku? Aoki? Nobu? I think I know who it would have to be

On Kawara: "Why don't we hang ourselves?"

Aoki: "With what?"

On: "You haven't got a bit of rope?"

Aoki: "No."

On: "Then we can't."

Aoki: "Let's go."

On: "Wait. There's my belt."

Aoki: "It's too short."

On: "You could always hang onto my legs."

Aoki: "And who'd hang on to mine?"

On: "Ah, true."

Aoki: "Show all the same."

On takes off his belt.

Aoki: "Might do at a pinch. But is it strong enough?"

On: "We'll soon see."

They pull the belt. It breaks.

Aoki: "Not worth a curse."

On's trousers fall down.

I'll just break in at this point on behalf of the reader's sensibility. You will want to be reassured that this dialogue is not gratuitous, but comes out of some aspect of On Kawara's practice. Well, let me refer you to a conversation that Dan Graham had in 2011 with an interviewer - Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at New York's Museum of Modern Art - for MOMA's Oral Archives. Graham is quoted as saying: "So we're coming out of a period of Samuel Beckett. Nauman comes out of that, and I think, originally, On Kawara. But On Kawara's, the existential thing, like Samuel Beckett, is whether you're alive or dead. It's a kind of nihilism."

Aoki and On shared memories of growing up in Japan, when both of them had been in a desperately vulnerable state for very different reasons. Desperate and depressed yet somehow indestructible. That's what they had in common.

Back to the farce:

On: "You say we have to come back tomorrow."

Aoki: "Yes."

On: "Then remind me to bring a good bit of rope."

Aoki: "Yes."

On: "Aoki?"

Aoki: "Yes."

On: "I can't go on like this."

Aoki: "That's what you think."

On: "If we parted. It might be better for us."

Aoki: "We'll hang ourselves tomorrow… Unless Godot comes."

On: "And if he comes?"

Aoki: "We'll be saved."

On: "Well, shall we go?"

Aoki: "Pull on your trousers."

On: "What?"

Aoki: "Pull on your trousers."

On: "You want me to pull off my trousers?"

Aoki: "Pull ON your trousers."

On: "Oh, yes!"

On pulls on his trousers.

Aoki: "Well? Shall we go?"

On: "Yes. Let's go."

They do not move.


1mxfmybhrhmrd1wtxtfhla_thumb_d20c Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

The subtitle of the Date Painting made on Christmas Day, 1969: "Neil Armstrong and Bob Hope at Da Nang, South Vietnam." It doesn't get any better than that. Or how about: "Neil Armstrong, Bob Hope and Samuel Beckett at Da Nang, South Vietnam?" Imagine the high spirits, the boundless vision, The Lost Ones.

However, I can't leave it there or I would be giving a misleading impression. On Kawara was a citizen of the world, witness his interest in the Apollo mission, his admiration for the works of Samuel Beckett and his friendships with Dan Graham and Kasper Konig (who were hardly met at all in 1969 as they were both living away from New York). But he was also deeply integrated into an expatriate Japanese community. I say this having just asked AGO for the 'I MET' list for December 24 (On's birthday) and December 25th. The first is a list of 20 names, all but one of Japanese origin, including Aoki, Soroku Toyoshima and Nobu Fukui (the trio of art confidants) and the mysterious Takashi Hashimoto. While the Xmas Day list is all-Japanese:

DECEMBER 25, 1969
USHIO SHINOHARA
TAKASHI HASHIMOTO
HIROKO HIRAOKA

These three I judge to have been with On from the early hours of Christmas Day. Then in the morning more people were met as the day wore on…

YU TSUCHIYA
HIROTSUGU AOKI
TAKESHI KAWASHIMA

Come to think of it these three might have been with On in the early hours following the artist's birthday as well. Aoki being such a close friend and Takeshi being the party animal…

NOBUMITSU FUKUI
MIYUKI FUKUI
TOSHIKO KAWASIMA
MASANORI KATAGIRI
NORIO AZUMA
NAOHIKO INUKAI
YASUHIRO IHARA
TADAKI KUWAYAMA
KAZUKO AZUMA
YOSHIE TSUCHIYA
YOKO KATAGIRI

So what am I saying? That On Kawara may have had wide intellectual interests but he was socially grounded in his own ex-Japanese community. He was not going to commit suicide. Don't worry.

Before we move on to 1970, I'd better quickly examine the ongoing template question. Were templates used in 1969 after the moon landing triptych of July 1969? 57 Dates were painted from August to December, 44 size 'B' and 13 size 'C'. These next two are both size 'B'.


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The first thing to say is that the letter 'C' is done in different ways in these two Dates. 'C' only crops up in the abbreviations OCT. and DEC. In 1966, the 'C' in both October and December is as in DEC.16, 1969. Alas, I don't have an example of an OCT. or DEC. painting from 1967. While in 1968, the three OCT. Dates I have seen, all show the 'C' in OCT.6, 1969 style. It seems that On Kawara couldn't make up his mind which way to do a 'C'. This alone suggests to me that On Kawara wasn't using templates towards the end of 1969.

Oh, what a trivial way to end the discussion of such an important year! On Kawara was back in New York, he was doing importantly original things, and he was within striking distance of a huge new idea: One Million Years.

On to 1970, then.